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anatomy of a seawig

Walking through London as a twelve-foot-tall person with remarkable hair proved to be a life-enhancing experience which I can recommend to anyone. A lot of people have asked about the monster wig I wore to the Oliver and the Seawigs pre-launch party (see photos in the last blog post), so let me give you an insight into its frothy secrets.

Photo by Blast Photo

The fancy wig obsession started while I watched Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette as research for drawing the Princess Spaghetti books:

And here's some fancy hair I painted into a party scene in You Can't Eat a Princess!:

I got more excited about fancy wigs when I worked on an exhibition at the Discover Children's Story Centre in Stratford called MONSTERVILLE. Part of designing our monster village involved creating a beauty parlour for weird and wonderful beasts, and I designed several wigs for it, then made all my friends model them (as one does). Here I show off two of the 2-D wigs with my good-sport Seawigs co-author, Philip Reeve:

I thought, these look great! and scoured the Internets for Big Wigs. Which is where I discovered the work of designer Kate Cusack. Not only were her wigs marvellous, but they were made out of CLING FILM (or 'saran wrap', if you're North American). I thought, I could afford this! But I also though, I wonder how much cling film one would need to make a wig that large. Five rolls? Ten rolls? A hundred?

I got so obsessed with wigs that they ended up becoming a prominent part of Oliver and the Seawigs (which was inspired by an acronym in a particularly long CWIG meeting.) When Oxford University Press offered a Seawigs launch party, I knew it was my big chance to wear the best wig of my whole life. I started by curling a few pieces of this cling film around my fingers.

It was amazing how well the curls held together, and looked like sparkly curls of human hair. So I set out making a small prototype wig for the OUP sales conference, to find out if I could do it. I started in December, with a panettone box from Lidl:

And it worked pretty well. The cling film had a bit of a sickly yellowish hue, but I assumed that was an inherent property of the material, and I wore the wig proudly around the Bologna Book Fair (photos here).

But I knew the wig could be bigger and better. My artist friend Eddie Smith said he'd help me, and he has a lot of experience in large-scale sculpture. I couldn't figure out how to keep the wig on my head, and not make it wobble. Eddie advised me to get a sturdy hat that he could wire things into, so I bought an old-fashioned pith helmet from the charity shop, and went online and tentatively ordered six rolls of 30cm x 300m Terinex 'Clingorap' from cater4you.co.uk.

When the cling film arrived, I was surprised to find it had a purple tinge, and when I started winding it around my studio mate's fat knitting needles, the most lovely lilac curls emerged.

Knitting needle borrowed without permission from Deadly Knitshade's desk

And I could get larger curls with a wooden rolling pin:

Rolling pin also borrowed without permission from Stuart's baking supplies

Eddie found wooden model ships for both wigs at markets and he set to work making a pillar on top of the hat with wire and modelling rock, painted blue. (The mod rock proved to be slightly heavy, but we didn't have a big plastic bulb in the right shape to use, so the mod rock did the trick.) Here's the wig at Eddie's house:

Eddie played around with some decorative features, but I reckoned the wig really wasn't BIG ENOUGH. That didn't faze Eddie at all, he grabbed some cardboard from my studio floor, a glue gun, and set about weaving a sort of basket around the column:

Here's Eddie with the enhanced wig frame:

Then Eddie wired on some mod rock tentacles, we painted them and covered the whole thing in cling film.

We noticed that if we touched the long strands of cling film too much, or laid the wig against something, they went all flat and dull and lost the hair look about them. We suspected Kate Cusack's wigs didn't get out of the studio much. Tight curls held their shape much better. While Eddie was gone, I heated up the glue gun again and stuck lots more curls and the halves of a plastic seashell bra onto it. I also bought some dried starfish off the Internet, but they were real starfish and they stank like sewage, so they're still sitting somewhere near Gary Northfield's desk, stinking.

I thought the wig was finished, but when I put it on, it wobbled like crazy and perched way too high on my head like some sort of mushroom. The wig looked arresting, but I still wanted to look... pretty. So Eddie devised these collar pieces out of stiff book cover cardboard, which had the dual effect of bracing the wig against my collar bones, and letting me put some decorative curls around my face, to frame it better. He used layers of washing-up sponges to pad the insides against my head.

In the end, the wig consumed about four big rolls of cling film, about 1200 metres, 30 cm wide (1,440 metres square). A couple days before the launch, I decided I wanted it EVEN BIGGER and ordered some ostrich feathers online. And, TA-DAH! Monster wig!

If only we'd had this great wooden head in the studio to support it while we were working. I couldn't believe the Golden Hinde ship had a perfect carved wig holder.

Photo by Blast Photo

Warning: getting through doorways is a little tricky. I almost had to crawl through the glass doors in front of the ship, not my most elegant moment:

Photo by Blast Photo

Audrey Niffenegger sent me this helpful diagram:

Here's a side view, modelled by one Hayley Campbell (who, incidentally, has written a new blog post after the party about being so tall).

Big thanks to Eddie (here with his bemused wife, Caroline Smith) for his awesome wig-making skills!

Do check out Eddie's website (designed by our friend Dan Fone) to see some of his other amazing sculptures. He studied sculpture at the Royal Academy and is going to have a drawing in this year's Jerwood Exhibition. (I once interviewed Eddie and his daughter about drawing trees.)

Oh, and Eddie says he'll give me some help for the next book if I want it...

Photo by Blast Photo

Well. We'll just have a little think about that one.

Photo by Blast Photo

Oliver and the Seawigs launches at Daunt Books, Marylebone in London on Wed, 4 Sept. Join us for the party! Scroll to the end of the previous post to discover how to make your own more moderate-size seawig out of A3 paper.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 27th, 2013 09:28 am (UTC)
You are a marvel! WHAT A CREATION. Just so inspiring. GO SARAH! x
Jul. 27th, 2013 09:34 am (UTC)
Re: WOW!
Oh, have I inspired you to make a seawig, James?!!
*crosses fingers in rapturous hope*
Thank you! :D
Jul. 27th, 2013 05:55 pm (UTC)
amazing , cling film !
i wish i had known that when i made a wig many years ago, but i used wire and toy stuffing ;]
Jul. 27th, 2013 10:36 pm (UTC)
Toy stuffing dents less easily, but it's true, cling film's pretty amazing! :)
Jul. 27th, 2013 10:29 pm (UTC)
Before reading this, I wasn't even aware of the existence of plastic seashell bras. Where do people even buy those ?

That being said, I'm really impressed ! I'm at a loss for words regarding that wig, it's just so... It's too big for words ! As we say in French, "pour un coup d’essai, c'est un coup de maître !"

I hope you didn't have to walk for too long with that thing on in this heat ! I assume there's no way you could have taken a taxi or even the tube...
Jul. 27th, 2013 10:40 pm (UTC)
Hi, there! Ha ha, you can buy almost anything on Ebay. Although I was just searching it for a plastic giant banana hat (because I thought that might make a more lightweight wig base) but haven't turned up anything. No one selling giant banana hats, just inflatable bananas, I think maybe I made up their existence.

And thank you! You're right, there's no way I would've made it through the tube in that! I took a taxi with the wig in a big bag, then did last-minute assembling at the hotel near the ship where we were doing an interview. And I only wore it for about an hour, then the wooden head on the ship wore it and looked very fetching. Luckily the ship was on the shaded side of the river.
Jul. 28th, 2013 08:40 am (UTC)
Very impressive indeed! It also reminds me of a millennium event in a park in Oxford, where rivers and huge creatures were made out of Sellotape, bits of stick, and cling film...
Jul. 29th, 2013 07:14 am (UTC)
Cheers! One of the wigs was made out of those long strips of brown paper you get in shipping boxes. I always wondered what to do with that, very clever! The only thing I had thought it would be good for was winding around cardboard tubes to make palm tree trunks, but... wigs! :)
Jul. 29th, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC)
Jul. 22nd, 2014 08:55 am (UTC)
Re: Wigcellent!
Thank you! :)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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